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Deadly attack precedes Obama's Myanmar visit

YANGON, Myanmar – Ethnic rebels in northern Myanmar staged a deadly attack on a prison convoy, state media reported Friday, highlighting one of the country’s violence-plagued corners days before President Obama’s historic visit to the former pariah state.

About 30 ethnic Kachin rebels ambushed the five-car convoy Wednesday in Kachin state, killing two convicts and injuring 14 others, the state-owned Kyemon newspaper reported. The newspaper did not give further details about the attack or the rebels’ possible motives.

While President Thein Sein’s government has concluded cease-fires with several ethnic guerrilla groups, it still faces a bitter insurgency from the Kachin Independence Army. Clashes between the military and ethnic rebels have displaced tens of thousands of civilians, prompting calls by the U.S. and others for humanitarian access to the isolated area.

Obama will visit Myanmar on Monday, in a first for a sitting U.S. president. White House officials on Thursday said he will use his visit “to lock down progress and to push on areas where progress is urgently needed” – most notably freeing political prisoners and ending ethnic tensions in the western state of Rakhine and the northern state of Kachin.

Obama’s stop in Myanmar, scheduled to last about six hours, is the centerpiece of his first foreign tour since winning re-election. He will bookend the trip with visits to Thailand and Cambodia, a southeast Asian country with an abysmal record on human rights.